On the Upper West Side, where she’s lived for years in an apartment with a large terrace, Bridget Everett sits down to talk about her HBO series Somebody Somewhere, the quiet and emotional family story set in Everett’s own Kansas hometown. The neighborhood has little of the flash of the downtown cabaret scene that Everett in many ways defines, but the off-stage Everett is very different from the on-stage one.
Somebody Somewhere, which Everett co-created, plays out like an alternate version of her life. Her character Sam is grieving the loss of her sister, like Everett did when she lost her sister Brinton in 2008. Sam has an earth shatteringly beautiful voice but is remarkably closed off. Surprisingly, Everett says she’s even more so. Her revealing, raucous cabaret acts feel safer to her than much of her real life. “I know that may seem bizarre, but with my own friends, with my own relationships, I have a really hard time sharing things, because I feel like it destabilizes me. But through the show, I’m learning that that’s not true,” she says. “There’s something that happens in the very last episode, which is a reflection on who I am. It’s about the things you do to protect yourself. I’m 50 years old, but it’ll make you feel like a kid, kind of.”
The show has made Everett, long a star in New York’s theater scene, a figure on the national stage. Over years in the city, she gradually found herself in a new kind of cabaret scene, developing an act that is fully original in its humor and raunchiness. She’s a signature at the celebrated venue Joe’s Pub, where she performs with her band The Tender Moments and has made fans out of the likes of Patti LuPone. Somebody Somewhere is closer to home.
In season 2, Sam is still making slow progress towards repairing her relationship with her sister, understanding her friends, and accepting that her parents are aging. Everett is herself taking some of the same steps Sam is. “I’m just a little baby girl sheep. I’ve lived alone for a very long time, me and my dog, and I’m very happy there. But Sam is being forced into life and she’s two steps up, one step back. And I’m trying to just shave a little bit of her knowledge off as we go,” she explains. “We’re pushing Sam beyond where I’m comfortable going. Because if it were up to me, Sam would always be depressing, on the couch.”
Living life has always terrified Everett a bit and the pandemic only made things harder. “COVID’s been 10 steps back for me. I’m no different than anybody else. I’ve been trying to work through a lot of depression, just based on the isolation of it all,” she says. Singing has always given her freedom. Somebody Somewhere does, too. “Karaoke was the first time I felt really alive. Being on top of the bars, singing ‘Piece of My Heart’ with my shirt open. I felt on the edge of life, I felt awake, I felt present,” she says. “This is just another iteration of that. That’s why I have to be in the writer’s room. I have to be involved in what’s on the set. I have to be involved with every bit of it, because it has to feel like it’s me.”
With the show, Everett has created a world with a sense of warmth that recalls her artistic community in New York. Sam’s sister Tricia is played by Mary Catherine Garrison, Everett’s friend and former roommate. Murray Hill, who plays a life of the party agricultural professor, is another longtime friend and Jeff Hiller, cast as Sam’s close friend Joel, orbited around her for years. On set in Illinois, Everett, Hiller, and Hill lived together in a home they called the Ding Dong Dorm. “It feels like family. You have a cocktail at the end of the night and talk about your day, go over your lines and then get up at 5:30 in the morning and you see each other in the kitchen,” she says. “You end up waving and just like, ‘Did you sleep okay?’ ‘Not really. Did you sleep okay?’ ‘Not really.’ ‘Okay. I’ll see you there.’ ‘All right.’”
Everett’s had a similar dynamic at home, but sometimes doesn’t realize it. “Murray used to call me every night for my check-ins. It’s interesting how isolated I have felt and feel like I am sometimes, but that’s not really the truth. I have people all around me. Most of my friends know that I can retreat very easily. So they make calls,” she says. “I try, but my default is, ‘I don’t want to bother them.’ And a lot of my friends just see past that and see through that. And that’s a large part, too, of my time living with Mary Catherine and my friend Zach, they really put in a lot of work to crack me open a little bit.”
It was supposed to be the first season that was about grief. Then last May, as the show was in pre-production, Mike Hagerty, who featured prominently in season 1 as Everett’s father, died suddenly. “It was a lot of really quick thinking and re-imagining scripts. It came together, thank God, trying to figure out how to carry him with us, as opposed to leaving him behind.”
A glimmer of sorrow is visible, even in the sunnier storyline and a new layer was added to the question of how a family reconfigures when a member is gone. “When somebody leaves the family, it sets it off its axis. Because in the show, Holly, and in my case, my sister Brinton, was a buffer or a safe place. When she was gone, then it’s like, where are you, in your own family? Where do you fit in?” Everett asks.
Season 1 explores the tension between Sam, who is single, and her sister Tricia, married with a child, as they mourn their sister Holly and experience loneliness in different ways. “Just because somebody has a different kind of family unit, it doesn’t mean that the ache in their heart isn’t the same. I historically, think of things in those terms. Like when you have all that happiness, could this possibly be as hard for you as it is for me?” says Everett. “As Sam has learned some of that stuff, so has Bridget, through the show. I still think that I have it harder than anybody else. I’m just kidding!”
Everett hopes other people can see elements of themselves, or their families, in the show. “One of the biggest takeaways, for me, is the message of the first episode: Don’t give up. It really is about taking a chance on yourself and trying to plug back into life and all the complications that that involves. I watch it and it makes me feel more hopeful that I might feel my old self, living my life,” she says.
“Maybe nobody will watch it,” Everett says, at one point. They will.
Adrienne Gaffney is an editor at ELLE who previously worked at WSJ Magazine and Vanity Fair.